Posted on YourHub on August 10, 2020
When one door closes, TeRay Esquibel and Perla Bustillos don’t wait for another door to open. They create a new door wide enough for their peers to walk through.
TeRay, executive director, and Perla, engagement manager, are the architects behind Ednium: The Alumni Collective, a newly launched organization that offers a leadership development program and mentorship opportunities for graduates of Denver Public Schools (DPS). Led by a board of directors that features prominent leaders from around the community, Ednium takes a new approach to community conversations and policy decisions by centering the voices of impacted communities. By empowering DPS alumni — for which the organization is named — Ednium infuses community conversations around education with the voices of those with firsthand experience.
“Engaging with these young leaders gives us a glimpse at what the future can hold for all of us, especially if we honor the voices and experiences of those that have recently navigated our educational and workforce systems,” said Nathan Cadena, M.Ed., chair of the board of directors. “Ednium: The Alumni Collective provides opportunities for those who have historically been excluded from traditional power structures to develop the ideas, skills, support and social capital to continue to navigate complex systems. These developing leaders are investing time, energy, emotion, and — most importantly — a willingness to grow and reinvest in their home communities.”
Building a Table for Alumni Voices
The idea for the group emerged after TeRay started attending school board meetings after he graduated from college. He observed that key voices — those of DPS graduates, who offer lived experience within the district and could attest to how their educational experience has impacted their long-term success — were not represented at the meetings or in key decision-making processes. Yet, TeRay knew that his peers collectively held a wealth of knowledge and expertise that could change the trajectories for future generations of young minds in Denver. Rather than bringing alumni voices to the table, using them as bargaining chips in a political game, TeRay set out to elevate DPS alumni as subject matter experts. He thought, obviously this table wasn’t built for these voices. For this system to recognize our neglected brilliance, we need to build a new table that embraces our authentic selves.
“The district (and Denver) ecosystem is missing valuable inputs without the perspectives of those who have gone on to apply their experience in the professional world,” said TeRay. “To truly achieve equity and provide a great education for all students, these perspectives must be centered in discussions and decisions. The most crucial and often overlooked aspect is that alumni (and communities in general) can never truly thrive while constantly having to hedge based on outside agendas. We must build space so that these voices can self-determine their objectives and positions. Only then can we hope to have authentic partnership as we seek a positive shared vision for the future.”
Designing a Path Forward
During the Summer of 2019, a series of events, called Design Studios, were organized with funding from RootED, organizational support from Turn Corps, and in partnership with Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF). These Design Studios brought together over 150 DPS alumni and students with diverse backgrounds to reflect on their educational experience and discuss potential changes and classroom innovations. These blue sky, wide open brainstorming and discussion sessions resulted in 10 broad priorities, of which five were selected by the alumni for further development. These five recommendations were then honed by self-nominated alumni delegates and presented to DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova, the senior leadership team, and individual board members.
These initial meetings gave way to a series of Leadership Labs, designed to prepare alumni to contribute in spaces where critical decisions are made. Over the course of the series, 20 DPS alumni grew confidence in telling their stories, bridging networks, and building a greater understanding of state and local policy and the levers of impact and change.
Duane Rich, a 2012 graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School and a 2016 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado, was among the first cohort of Leadership Lab participants, all of whom received or are currently receiving the DSF Scholarship.
“Through the labs, we met with many guest speakers to learn more about their leadership styles and about the roads that led them to become a leader,” said Duane. “Through our capstone projects, we focused on a topic that we want to change in the community. As a finance professional, my project addressed the topic of financial literacy from a data perspective. The labs gave us a platform to take our experiences, plans, and goals, and start to see that work flourish in the community.”
A New Organization is Born
To formalize the work that was already in motion, Ednium: The Alumni Collective was officially launched on July 15, 2020. In celebration, participants of the Leadership Labs gathered together to reflect on their growth and look ahead to the future of the organization.
“Our celebration event was the first time all of the Leadership Lab participants had physically come together,” shared Perla, engagement manager at Ednium: The Alumni Collective. “We could see that natural connection and trust between everyone because we have similar stories.”
After recognizing the accomplishments of the Leadership Lab participants, TeRay and Perla, the organization’s only full-time staff, are looking ahead to next steps for Ednium: The Alumni Collective. Sharing their work with the community is a top priority.
“Our biggest takeaway is to let people know that there’s something growing in their own backyard,” said TeRay. “We’re creating a place to help center lived experience into changing Denver for generations to come.”
If you are a DPS graduate and would like to get involved, contact Perla at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Ednium: The Alumni Collective’s website to learn more.
About Ednium: The Alumni Collective
Ednium: The Alumni Collective engages Denver Public Schools (DPS) alumni between the ages of 18 and 30 to participate in community research, personal leadership design, and policy systems activation leading to the development of practical and meaningful new and/or revised educational programs, initiatives, services, and curricula. And we’re doing this with a laser focus on those antiquated systems, ideas, and policies that perpetuate racial, cultural, and economic inequality. Ednium: The Alumni Collective is adding value to the Denver ecosystem through authentic community research, leadership development and activation for and with those who have lived experience both inside and outside of the educational system. Learn more at ednium.org.
Ednium: The Alumni Collective Advisory Board
Nathan Cadena, M.Ed., Denver Scholarship Foundation, Board Chair Charles Dukes, Wend Collective Dr. Antwan Jefferson, University of Colorado Denver Shontel Lewis, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless Miguel Lovato, Colorado Health Foundation Richard Maez, Denver Public Schools Landon Mascareñaz, Colorado Education Initiative Bernard McCune, Denver Public Schools Linda Quintanar, University of Denver Ana Soler, Gates Family Foundation Josh Scott, Community Mem